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Review: ‘Welcome to Sweden’ is the Antithesis of ‘Parks and Rec’ as Amy Poehler’s Brother Bombs

Review: 'Welcome to Sweden' is the Antithesis of 'Parks and Rec' as Amy Poehler's Brother Bombs

"Welcome to Sweden" is one of the more intriguing summer series to launch this year or any other. It’s an imported comedy based and shot in Sweden, which has already aired in its native country to high ratings (so high, it’s already been picked up for a second season). It doesn’t appear that many, if any, alterations have been between countries either. While most Swedes speak English, most Americans do not speak Swedish, meaning a good chunk of the program has subtitles. It’s also scant on famous faces, as far as series regulars go. Lena Olin from "Chocolat" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is probably the most recognizable face outside of the many celebrities who stop by, approximately once per episode.

Why? "Welcome to Sweden," about a man who leaves his high paying job as a celebrity accountant to move to Sweden for the love of his life, was created by Greg Poehler, brother of "Parks and Recreation" star and comedy veteran Amy Poehler. The elder Poehler cashes in a few favors from the likes of "SNL" veteran Will Ferrell and "Parks and Rec" co-star Aubrey Plaza to bring some much needed talent to the show, as well as appearing as an evil version of herself on more than one occasion. She, as always, is a delight — as are most of the celebrity guests, who occasionally save some subpar writing — but a much harsher "d" word comes to mind when watching the character her brother portrays on the show.

Unlike his sister, Greg has no formal training as an actor, writer, or producer (he and Amy serve as executive producers). Sadly, it shows. While plenty of family members are funny in their own right, it appears Amy’s wealth of experience in the UCB improv theatre, years writing and acting on "Saturday Night Live" and many diverse roles in television and film have actually helped her hone her craft and become one of the funniest people on the planet. Her brother, however, did none of these things, instead relying on whatever inherit charm and perseverance was within him to churn out a comedy series based on his own personal experiences moving to Sweden.

Big surprise: it doesn’t work. "Welcome to Sweden" isn’t devoid of humor entirely, but it’s the predictable, beat-by-beat comedy that tired out decades ago, and even then only worked when someone with immense talent was running the show. Characters settle into simple, restricting parameters. Greg plays Bruce, a man who moves across an ocean to be with the woman he loves, but doesn’t bother to show it very well once he gets there. He makes little to no effort to woo his girlfriend or her parents upon meeting the latter for the first time. Then he quickly devolves into a cliched, middle-aged man trying to "find himself" and in the process becomes a real dick. He’s rude to his neighbors (though he’s told to be), his would-be family-in-law (though they kind of deserve it) and a cashier who has the gall to ask him to pay for a pastry. Bruce is not a likable protagonist, nor is he some sort of comedic antihero. He’s just ill-defined by a writer/actor without experience to know where to find the definition.

His girlfriend, played by Swedish actress Josephine Bornebusch, isn’t much better. By episode two, all she cares about is sex, no matter how inappropriate or inconvenient (she actually gets pissed at Bruce for being too sick to sleep with her). Then in the third episode she becomes so fixed on making a good impression with the immigration office, she freaks out Bruce, ruins her interview and thusly trashes his too. What’s her reaction? Guess. While she’s simply not around enough in the fourth episode to get pissed off again, an uncomfortable pattern has been established.

All this adds up to "Welcome to Sweden" coming across as the antithesis to "Parks and Recreation." Instead of providing insight into either of the countries its catering to (America for Swedish audiences, Sweden for Americans), it paints both with a broad brush and relies heavily on Bruce’s inability to speak Swedish for laughs (another example of Bruce’s dislikability, considering he usually blames them for his lack of understanding). Amy’s "Parks and Recreation" repeatedly illustrates the value of small town life, sharing both its detriments and its benefits with equal insight. It also creates a community of characters with good hearts, whereas "Welcome to Sweden" is filled with angry pessimists, from the mother who hates her daughter’s boyfriend to our two leads who don’t seem to be very in love with each other.

It’s this part of the show that’s most troublesome, seeing as it’s based on Greg Poehler’s actual love life. The two simply don’t seem to get along. They know very little about one another, and the chemistry is virtually nonexistent. While it’s understandable given Greg’s lack of acting experience, the issue could have been skirted with a few more romantic moments or well-timed proclamations of love. They don’t have to be Leslie and Ben, whose love story is unparalleled in modern television, but they do have to show why we should care whether or not this trip succeeds or fails. As of now, it looks like Bruce should head back to the States. At least there he has some funny friends. 

Grade: D

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Comments

Boring

I hate Amy Poehler, so of course I hate this show.

Penelope

This reviewer missed the point of the show. It is about the Swedish culture.

Bad Writing

Or actually, it is a word, just not the one he intended, which was ‘inherent,’ of course.

Bad writing

‘Inherit’ ???? Good God, that’s not even a word.

bcbell35

I agree completely with this whole article. I couldn't even finish the episode, realizing I still had about 6 minutes left after I'd already been forcing myself to pay attention to this show for what seemed like infinity!

I had zero curiosity of how it would end, or what was next for any of these characters. I feel bad for Greg Poehler, it's hard being sibling to one of the funniest people ever, let alone having his show idea & amateur acting chops viewed on primetime to already high standards for television– but he ends up inevitably disappointing people who tuned in excited to see the Poehler family's comedic genes. It is a ton of added pressure on top of what's already a mega stressful scenario.

I'm sure he's a funny comedian, but his character on tv doesn't make sense. He's half timid & cautious like an observant child, while simultaneously showing a "sure, who cares" kind of attitude when it comes to all things thrown his way (whether life changing or an ordinary interaction).

I can tell he's sweet, and quirky-funny in a very (VERY) understated way….but it just doesn't translate to quirky-funny-sweet in American terms when it comes to tv characters. I can see why it's popular in Sweden–I've seen a few comedy shows that are popular there & Denmark and the overall goal seems to be making television that is extremely simple, requiring little to no effort of the viewer to "keep up" or learn details about the plots/characters. I guess because they don't obsess over television like we do, the need to enthrall the audience or lure them in to regularly watch– is not high on the list of these European tv producers.

I kind of felt like it was the perfect analogy for IKEA. At first glance, sure– the product seems nice enough & suitable for what you're looking for….but if you take a closer look, it's not likely to have many details at all, nor the quality standards one wants in furniture (durable, long-lasting). I felt like "Welcome to Sweden" was a cheap & flimsy knockoff of a primetime NBC comedy show. I was honestly surprised that NBC thought that this risky new show could maybe pay off. Esp. considering that they dismissed John Mulaney's (alumni writer for SNL & other network comedies) show concept for that exact reason.

Jenna Smith

Thank you! I agree. Welcome to Sweden is NOT FUNNY! All this show has going is the Poehler name, but it's the wrong Poehler!

Mule

Episode one shows one charactor trying to get some sleep due to jet lag and a girlfriends family that has no clue about the need for sleep.

Like the lead Charactor Bruce, I found myself wanting to sleep through the entire first episode of Welcome To Sweden.

Harry Hill

I live in Sweden and have watched all 10 episodes. It is absolutely awful. A real piece of junk. When I heard about the second series I thought the world had gone mad. It really is a botton-drawer stinker and it gets worse. You'll see.

Larry

I really wanted to like this but it just doesn't work. Greg Poehler totally lacks the comedic charm his character needs and his acting ability clearly isn't there. I find his sister, Amy, brilliantly funny but as we all know, brilliantly funny isn't a trait that runs in a family. Look at some of the other great comedic actors and when they desperately try to give one of their siblings their big break, it never happens.
This will be off the air before the 5th episode airs… you can take that to the bank.

Robert

Greg Poehler's Internet name in the swedish forums was "Stefano". Here he obviously goes by "Esteban".

Esteban

Parks and rec also sucked season 1. Remember? Amy played a slapstick idiot and in subsequent seasons they changed her character to be more "normal" and brought in new cast members. The show sucked, they made it better. Perhaps they can use the same formula here. parks and Rec didn't start out as good as the author of this article sees in now through rose tinted glasses

Stephen Dedalus

Anton is, of course, Greg Poehler (maybe Sue, too). Francis is a guy named Paul.

Francis

The writer is quite right about Greg Poehler having zero chops. But I must disagree that Amy Poehler is one of the funniest people on the planet. Comedy has taken a strange turn from pissing your pants with laughter in the days of old.

Mattias, beware: Anton could be Greg Poehler. GP had posted antagonistic comments under a pseudonym raving about the show and was caught.

Had Poehler cut his teeth in small theater like a real actor/comedian he'd probably have much thicker skin.

Anton

Oh, I see Mattias. The fact that they placed it after Let's Dance and actually advertised a series they had invested a lot in automatically makes it bad? And you find it surprising that it lost viewers when it suddenly was moved to another weekday?

Mattias

Spot on, Emma! And just fyi: this show lost a third of its audience when it was no longer preceded by our version of "dancing with the stars". Also: the guest star appearances, especially Ferrell's and Amy's, was advertised more then a few times in the swedish press before the premiere. As was Greg's last name if you get my point.

Anton

Sorry, Emma. NBC, TV4 and the Swedish viewers disagrees with you.

Emma

Well, maybe the ratings were high in Sweden (especially in the beginning) but it was no success and the critics were unanimous in disliking the series.

Anton

I agree with Sue. It has been a total success in Sweden. Go to Variety or Hollywood Reporter if you want a professional review.

sue

wow, such a BS review. The show is hilarious. Lena Olin is an amazing actress, Patrick Duffy and IIleana douglas are a hoot as his parents and Bruce is charming and likeable. I think the writer needs to turn off the TV, get out of his apartment and travel.

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